State Assemblyman Mike Zabel, a Delaware County Democrat, has been a harsh critic of the cuts at Crozer Health over the past year or so for-profit Prospect Medical Holdings Inc.
But he sees Crozer’s announcement Wednesday – that it will be turning Delaware County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) into a much-needed inpatient behavioral health facility – as a mixed bag.
“I am pleased to see an increase in behavioral health services, particularly in Upper Darby,” he said. “That is certainly positive and I am pleased that the DCMH system will continue to be used.”
However, this step will take place with the closure of the emergency room in just 60 days, subject to official approval. That’s a major handicap for Upper Darby, a community of about 85,000, Zabel said.
“It’s already a community that’s partially economically disadvantaged. Accessibility will be a big issue,” said Zabel. “Located right in the heart of public transportation, right in the heart of the community, DCMH has provided health services to many communities that I fear will struggle to get prompt and timely emergency care. That is the big concern.”
Wednesday’s announcement came a month after ChrisitanaCare’s proposed purchase of Crozer fell through. In connection with this announcement, Crozer said that its owner, for-profit Prospect, would convert Crozer into a non-profit organization.
Crozer chief executive Tony Esposito said the patients who used to rely on the Delaware County Memorial emergency room are likely to leave Trinity Health’s Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, two miles away in Darby, or Main Line Health’s Bryn Mawr Hospital.
“They absorbed a lot of the volume when we closed the surgical services and the ICU,” Esposito said of Mercy Fitzgerald. Since those closures, which have left the hospital with about 10 patients a day in its 39 remaining inpatient beds, emergency services have been driving past the Delaware County Memorial to Mercy or other hospitals, he said.
Mercy officials confirmed they picked up patients from the Delaware County Memorial. “We will continue to care for these patients and our community following the closure of Delaware County Memorial Hospital and will rely on our experienced staff to deal with increased volume,” said Brad Bendesky, chairman of Mercy Fitzgerald’s Emergency Department.
But some of those ambulances that go to Mercy end up at the Delaware County Memorial because Mercy is supported, said Angela Neopolitano, an emergency room nurse at Delaware County Memorial and president of the DCMH Nurses Association, a labor union. Six years ago, the Neopolitano local union represented 260 nurses. Now it’s 70 because so many hospital units have been closed, she said.
“They destroyed my hospital bit by bit and now they’re just closing it down completely,” said Neopolitano, who has worked there for more than 40 years, the last six in the emergency room.
Esposito said Crozer’s emergency medical service will continue to serve that part of Delaware County. He expects the Delaware County Memorial will employ more than the 200 or so people who now work there when the transition to behavioral health is complete.
The plan to convert the Delaware County Memorial into a behavioral facility involves moving Crozer-Chester’s 34-bed inpatient psychiatric unit to Upper Darby and increasing its size to 40 beds, Esposito said. A 20-bed geriatric psychiatric ward will also move, but will not grow.
Esposito said that in the spring, Crozer completed construction of a 40-bed acute detoxification and rehabilitation unit inside the Delaware County Memorial. It was not opened at the time due to a lack of staff.
Additionally, Crozer plans to open a mental health crisis center at the Delaware County Memorial, replacing one that was formerly located at Mercy Fitzgerald but closed in early 2021, Esposito said. “We will still keep the crisis center in Chester,” he said.
Also remaining in Chester will be outpatient services such as Crozer’s methadone clinic, Esposito said.
The goal is to complete the changes to the Delaware County Memorial by March next year.
One of the challenges in achieving this goal will be staffing, which is difficult anywhere in healthcare.
“What makes you think you’ll be able to occupy this in Delaware County? There is so much distrust in the prospect system and in Crozer,” said Peggy Malone, a registered nurse in Crozer’s Adult Behavioral Health Division and President of the Nursing Union at Crozer.
The Delaware County Memorial is located between Upper Darby High School and Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School.
News of the move to behavioral health services at the Delaware County Memorial has prompted community members to contact Upper Darby School District Superintendent Daniel McGarry for information.
“My community is asking me questions right now about this usage and the impact this usage is having on the community,” McGarry said.